SCARCE FRENCH FANZINE INTERVIEW
Philippe Cordier: How do you look at your work on New Mutants today? Was it a great time for you? Do you like the end result (be it the GN or the monthly title)?
Bob McLeod: This is unfortunately a sore subject for me. I have a lot of regrets about the New Mutants, and it was a very frustrating time for me. I was originally very excited to be asked to co-create the New Mutants, but we were supposed to start out three months ahead of schedule, in which case I would have had plenty of time to do my best work. But before I had drawn more than the first couple pages of the first issue, it was decided to turn the 22-page comic into a 50-page graphic novel. Marvel had just begun their line of graphic novels and they were frantically looking for projects to turn into graphic novels because, in their usual boneheaded way, they had set up a schedule with the printer before assigning the work to writers and artists. So the graphic novels were on a different schedule than the comic, and instead of being three months ahead, we were suddenly a month behind before we started. This was my first regular pencilling assignment, and I just wasn't prepared to draw pages so quickly. They were going to have an inker I didn't like ink the graphic novel while I was pencilling it unless I could somehow ink it myself in the same short amount of time I had been given to pencil it. So I had to pencil and ink it as fast as I could move the pencil and pen, with very little time to think of better compositions or anything. I had to actually ink it during my honeymoon. I considered the job a disaster, basically. And no sooner had I completed the graphic novel than I had to jump onto the first issue of the comic, which was now also behind schedule. The only inker available was someone even less experienced than I was, and I didn't like the way the comic looked at all. After three issues I couldn't stand it any more and decided to let someone else pencil it so I could better control the final look of the comic by inking it. But the new penciller, Sal Buscema, was drawing another comic or two at the same time and he also had no time to think, so his compositions were uninspired and there was a limit to what I could do with them. Then Marvel started doing things like putting Team America into the series, and I just couldn't take it anymore. I very reluctantly left the series rather than continue to do what I considered garbage.
Philippe Cordier: Was it easy working with the kind of full script method Chris Claremont is famous for?
Bob McLeod: Hardly. Chris gave me detailed plots rather than finished scripts. He wrote about 40 pages of story that I had to somehow edit into a 22-page comic. Again, with very little prior pencilling experience, I just didn't quite know what to leave in and what to omit.
Philippe Cordier: How did you end up doing artwork for a big franchise book like Star Wars? Was it harder than with New Mutants, and how did you feel being inked by one of the best, Tom Palmer?
Bob McLeod: After leaving the New Mutants, I asked around for what else was available and I was offered Star Wars after pencilling and inking a fill-in issue (#83). But Tom Palmer was already the regular inker, and he insisted on breakdowns rather than finished pencils. That lowered my page rate substantially, and limited me to mainly doing just the part of the job I thought I was weakest at; the layouts. But I didn't mind, because Palmer is my favorite inker and I wanted to see what he would do with my drawings. I was very happy with the results, and don't remember why I left the series after only a few issues. Another regret.
Philippe Cordier: You were on Action Comics for a while penciling the big one, Superman. Was it some kind of achievement for you? Did you feel any pressure?
Bob McLeod: Yes, it was a very big pleasure for me to pencil Superman. I had been living in Florida all during the 80's, just taking whatever assignments came my way, and my career was taking a nosedive. So we had just moved back to New York City to rejuvenate my career and I was very happy to get that assignment. There was a lot of pressure, because there were two other Superman books, being drawn by the great Jerry Ordway and Dan Jurgens. So naturally everyone was comparing the three books every month.
Philippe Cordier: How did you feel working with other inkers, knowing that you also were (and still are) a big gun in the inking department?
Bob McLeod: Again, that's always been very frustrating for me. Being heavily influenced by Mort Drucker, I don't draw in a stereotypical superhero comic book style, and inkers have always seemed to be unable to interpret the subtleties in my drawing. They all change the dimensions of my faces, making noses bigger or jaws squarer or whatever. They just don't ink it the way I draw it because they don't understand what I'm doing. So I've never been happy with someone else inking my pencils. As much as I liked what Palmer did with me on Star Wars, he didn't ink it the way I drew it. And my Superman inkers just drove me nuts. So I tried inking some issues myself, but I just wasn't fast enough. So that's why I eventually left the title.
Philippe Cordier: You always inked a lot. Maybe most of the artists were inked by you at one time or the other. Is it a job you liked more than penciling?
Bob McLeod: I love the art of inking, and think it's a vastly underrated and misunderstood skill. Two artists working together can produce art neither could produce alone. But the reason I did more inking than pencilling is only because my inking was in more demand. There were many more good pencillers than good inkers in the 70's and 80's. I was also faster at inking and could make more money inking. But I was always looking for pencilling assignments, and always preferred to ink my own pencils.
Philippe Cordier: Who were your favorite artists to ink?
Bob McLeod: John Buscema was by far my favorite. Michael Golden, Mike Zeck, Gene Colan, and Dale Keown were also fun.
Philippe Cordier: No news, or almost, from you and your pencil art after this run at DC (nothing from the big two). Why is that? And how did you feel being "out of the big two"?
Bob McLeod: It's very complicated. There is a lot of office politics involved in getting assignments, and I've probably been far too outspoken about incompetent editors. After every job I did, the editor would tell me he really liked it, but then not offer me anything else. I got tired of calling every editor in the business looking for work, while seeing so many dreadful younger artists getting steady work on the top books. Also, the stories being written were increasingly dark and violent and adult. Nothing I was interested in drawing. I got into comics wanting to draw for the general public, not for a subculture of superhero fans. I originally wanted to draw humor stuff for Mad magazine, not violent stuff like the Punisher. I taught myself how to draw dramatic comics because that's where the work was, but it was never really what I wanted to draw.
Philippe Cordier: Where did you spend most of the '90's? Inking?
Bob McLeod: I went back to Marvel after leaving Superman and pencilled and inked two miniseries (Spider-man #32-34, and Venom - The Enemy Within), and just couldn't find much more pencilling work. I tried inking for Valiant for awhile, then returned to DC and inked Detective and Wonder Woman for a couple years. One of the last straws was when a 20-something editor at DC who knew nothing about inking tried to tell me how to ink Wonder Woman, and the editor above her took her side, saying "at least she's telling you what she wants". They then fired the perfectly good penciller they had and replaced him with a terrible penciller. I left in frustration and disgust.
Philippe Cordier: You worked on a book for children, Superhero ABC (Harper and Collins, 2006). Was it fun? Did it make you kind of regret not doing monthly superheroes comics? Would you come back to this monthly comics biz?
Bob McLeod: I had more fun on Superhero ABC than anything I'd done in comics for decades. I was so tired of pencilling bad scripts, inking bad pencils, having other inkers mess up my pencils, and bad colorists mess up my inking. I had been working almost exclusively in black & white for 30 years. So on Superhero ABC, I wrote it myself, and drew it, inked it, and colored it myself. Whether anyone likes it or not, at least it's my art, as I want it to look (although I was pressured by the publisher to finish it in six months, when I would have preferred to spend a year on it). And it's received very good reviews and sold very well. I made far more money on it than anything else I've done, and it's brought me a whole new audience of children and parents. I just wish I had done it 15 years ago. I feel like I wasted the best years of my career on superhero drek, inking other people's art instead of doing my own. I might do more work in comic books only because I have to make a living and get work where I can. But I have no burning desire to work for Marvel and DC again.
Philippe Cordier: You "crossed the line" and you are now an editor, on Rough Stuff mag. How do you like this new job of yours?
Bob McLeod: Yeah, who would have ever seen that coming? It's a challenge, and I enjoy putting the magazine together and writing and editing, but it's very difficult to get some artists to send me comments and art scans, even when I give them several months to do what should only take them a few hours and is pure free publicity for them. It also takes up much more of my time than I'd like it to, and along with teaching one day a week at the PA College of Art & Design, it's why I've done very little art over the last two years. I'm hoping to get back to creating more art in 2009. So the word 'frustration' pretty much sums up my comic book career. But there were also many good times, and I'm very grateful to have had many of the opportunities I did. I consider myself very fortunate, and I deeply appreciate the many fans of my work. I just wish I could have done it all better than I did.